Pirates Are Not Thieves, They Are Fans

There's a long-standing — and incorrect, I think — view amongst publishers that a game pirated is a game stolen.

It's not (who says they'd ever have bought a copy anyway?), and in a great piece over on Gamasutra, Irish designer Tadhg Kelly (formerly of Lionhead) argues an even better reason why this isn't the case. Instead, he says, we shouldn't think of pirates as thieves. We should think of them as fans, and change the video game business accordingly.

Talking about publisher's stance on piracy, he says "They're seeing their business as a content business, where the content is the thing that has value. This is not the case."

"The games industry, like all the arts, is about finding and interacting with fans, so that value comes from a relationship."

"What it means is that your game, and you as a developer, needs to be built with the idea of forming a connection with players, and to do so with as many players as possible. The relationship that you establish with those players is the true source of revenue and success."

It's perhaps a little "pie in the sky" for big publishers as they exist today, but as Kelly's full article explains, there's something fundamentally broken with that, too, something that actually in some ways encourages piracy. It's an interesting read, if only because it seeks to tackle "piracy" not from a direct, reactionary standpoint but in terms of changing the entire business of video games.

Opinion: Game Developers Should Love Their Pirates [GameSetWatch]


Comments

    I have some friends who basically pirate everything, but recently they've been willing to part with their money when things like the Steam sales come up- 5-10 dollars for a game will tempt even the cheapest pirate.

      And thats what the article is insinuating, Pirating will most probably mean that if they like the game then they will buy it and any sequals it may have.

      I like this article because its thinking outside the box.

        I think that there will probably always be rampant piracy, and there is little that can be done to prevent it without anoying the customer.

        Just look at Music. People still pirate music to buggery. I am wiling to bet that a large percentage of people who listen to music regularly have not paid for it for the last 10 years.

        Yet, iTunes is making a fortune by providing a service to the remainder of the population willing to pay for their entertainment. Studios are still in business, and records are still being made, even with a lot of people taking what they want without paying.

          One way to get rid of piracy altogether is to release games for free and use in game advertising for revenue.
          This may not work for big budget titles but could still work for some games.

      But then again, you still get douchebags who pirated the Humble Indie Bundles - you could pay whatever you wanted, and part proceeds went to charity.

      No matter how you approach the situation, some people just want free stuff.

    I think the article while not entirely wrong, is naiive. A game that is downloaded and not paid for, is by definition stolen? If I go to a car yard and hot-wire a ford or Holden because it's too expensive for the mileage it gets these days, am I a fan? No, I'm a thief. Same exact principle. Its just ones more accessible to theft than the other. FFS of course they're fans or they wouldn't be pirating it... (and hell yes I've pirated and hell yes that makes me a thief...)

      "You wouldn't steal a car!!"

      I hate this argument. It is not at all the same thing. When you steal the car you are directly taking money from the pocket of the retailer (or the manufacturer if you stole it from the factory!) as now they have not only lost the potential revenue from that car but also the money they already spent purchasing it as stock. Unless you're talking about walking into a store and taking a boxed game (assuming the disc is in the box - which they often aren't), pirating a game is not at all like this. The only way the publisher loses revenue is if you were actually goign to purchase the game but then changed your mind when you realised you could pirate it; Or of course if you distribute the pirated copy. Everytime these discussions come up, the overwhelming response from sometimes-pirates is that they only download stuff they would never actually buy.

        yup it's a stupid statement.

        Digital Theft And Physical Theft aren't the same thing.

        While you can still say pirating is stolen if you like the fact is that in most cases it's a victimless crime at the point of theft. In The sense that you haven't cost someone else there hard earned cash. Where someone losing there car will cost them money and time.

        In the Long Run you risk having The studio developing it shut down due to under-performing sales.

        The Next issue is that most games these days nearly refuse to release a Demo of the game, which often means the only way to test a game is to download it. Now this is where the real issue arises because

        A) it adds a count to the torrent tracker for the company to complain about
        B) If the game is crap no purchase move on
        C) The Game Is Good But this person now has the game on there HDD and figures it's a waste of time to go and buy the full version
        D) Game is good but it's obvious from the 30 minute play that it's going to run out of content in 6 hours

        Once someone has obtained the full thing as a trial it's going to be alot harder to get them to make a purchase. Irony probably being that if i'd had Demo's for alot of my purchases they wouldn't have been bought.

        Oh and then theres the people who download Leaked copies just to see if the thing will run, something i distinctly remember with oblivion was the passing of the game around to see if the computers we had as high schoolers could even play it

        You're taking somebody else's work without paying for it.

        What if you went to work all week then at the end of the week your employer refused to pay you? It's not like they're stealing from you - you don't actually have the money, so they're not physically taking money out of your pocket. They're just not paying you for the work you did. So apparently that's OK? Especially if they never had any intention of paying you but just wanted to see what your work was like?

        If you steal a car from a dealer, the dealer is likely insured anyway so they'll get compensated by their insurance company. You download a game, the developer/publisher doesn't have any insurance for that, so they don't get compensated by anybody.

          Braaains, that perfectly sums it up. Perfectly!

          You earn a gold star for that (100%totallyserioushere!)

          (And you may stay on my lawn... I like your kind around here)

            This is a poor argument against piracy. The situation is simply not analogous. Firstly, you're trying to argue that piracy is theft - and the party line the games (and music, and movie) industry uses is that it is analogous to physical theft. It is not. The origin is not removed. A sale is not lost because stock is not lost. There is no direct effect on other's abilities to purchase the game. There is not one less copy available for others to buy. Thus, it is not analogous to that kind of theft. At all.

            Moreover, this argument is assuming that I am obliged to buy a product because others have made it. They haven't made it for me - they've made it for an audience, which they would like me to be a part of. By that logic, buying a used copy is stealing - I am not giving the developers the money that they have worked for. Buying it at a cheap price is the equivalent of my boss under-cutting my pay. Sorry, but no. It doesn't work.

            The thing is though - it doesn't matter if it's right or wrong. Getting on a moral high horse isn't going to change shit about piracy. Telling a pirate that they're a thief isn't going to stop them from pirating - that's what a lot of people in the entertainment industry don't realise. They don't give a shit. Piracy is going to happen whether you like it or not - the key is working out ways to get around it. That means rather than punishing people who buy your games legitimately with strict DRM features - you give incentive to purchase. There's a great talk given by someone, I've forgotten his name now, about piracy in music and Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails' approach to combat it. He says that to be successful in an artistic endeavour, you have to connect with fans and give them a reason to buy. That means, first of all, making fucking quality products - but also, being active in the community surrounding your art - giving them free things when you can, not charging exorbitant prices, coming across like a real, likeable person to your audience, so that they feel good about giving someone their money. It's why Valve are so profitable and popular. It's why Trent Reznor is sitting comfortable in an LA mansion. It's why everybody hates Activision and despises. It's why the music industry is in fucking shambles and nobody cares about them. Be pragmatic or get lost in the shuffle - ideology doesn't mean shit in the current breed of capitalism.

          I couldn't agree more Brains, you have it spot on.

          I am still curious to know why people think they have a right to have something if they think it costs too much? If it costs too much for what you are willing to spend then you don't by it. Anything else is stealing. If you think a used car costs too much you don't steal it and then pay the owners money only when the secondary market drops to the price you want.

          I consider pirates who steal because they don't agree with the price scumbags just like any other kind of criminal.

        The stealing the car ad is wrong on many levels. To start stealing my car is not the equivalent of pirating a game. the equivalent would be stealing a game I bought from a shop and had in my house. It is a simplistic scare tactic.

          You wouldn't steal a car, no but if I could download one, I definitely would

    " The relationship that you establish with those players is the true source of revenue and success"

    Maybe next time I'll pay my bill with frienship.

      except theft is taking and removing the initial copy, pirating is downloading a game that has been at one point purchased and it is also not actually taking away any copies from someone else. I mean its okay for mates to lend each other games on xbox and ps3 so they can experience the game and this is the exact same concept is it not? One mate didnt purchase the game but is using a bought copy that is lent to him

        woops i meant for this reply to go to Weresmurf

    Weresmurf, where your analogy falls short is that digital distribution means there are infinite copies of that particular piece of content. Downloading a digital copy is not the same as stealing a physical item.

    Plmko, bills are for essential utilities like water or electricity, while games are not. Games (and developers) need a reason to earn money and in these times just being 'games' doesn't seem to cut it.

      Bill for Foxtel (or other pay TV)? Not very essential I would say.

    I like this article, but I still disagree with it.

    Okay, who's to say people would buy stuff if they couldn't pirate it, but a certain percentage would. That's money the developers aren't getting that they would otherwise.

    It might be different when you're used to having games made and aimed for your demographic, but I worry that the games that I love will stop being made because they're not making money despite their popularity.

    They can't pay their programmers in friendship and popularity. And what's the use of pirates who will buy the sequels if there's no sequels being made?

    So, there was this person, who was definitely not me. And this person used to be in school with no job and no income other than a few bucks of pocket money each week. And that kid used to pirate almost everything, because they couldn't afford to pay for games, what with how expensive they are in Australia.

    And then that kid graduated and got a job, and started buying almost all their games. And then they found out about OzGameShop and imports in general and now never pirate at all except to try out a game that doesn't have a demo for it. They also went back and looked over games they had pirated and enjoyed and tracked them down and bought them, out of respect to the developers.

    Anyway, that story about some unrelated person who is definitely not me is to point out that there seems to be a serious underestimation of what percentage of pirates are just kids who couldn't buy the game anyway.
    But publishers love to say every copy pirated is a lost sale, because that makes them appear more badly wounded by those horrible monsters the heartless pirates. And gives them excuses to implement horrible DRM schemes and console focuses.

      Sorry, no... when I was a kid, and games were around, you know what I did? I worked my goddamned a$$ off. I picked up a paper round, I did gardening for a few of the neighbors. Sure, I was earning five bucks an hour, if that.

      And yeah, honestly, it took me nine months to save up for Super Mario 3 on the NES (that should date me), it was all the sweeter when I finally did get it.

      And hell, back then, there was no internet, there was no importing. I couldn't take the $40 I'd earned, given it to mum and have her import a game. Nope, I still had to pay the $60-$80 per game.

      It is not difficult to make money, as a kid these days. They are just damn lazy.

      And get off my lawn.

        I find it hard to believe that the desperate kid inside of you WOULDN'T have turned to piracy - had it been a viable option during the time in which you grew up.

        Piracy is attractive because it's just so easy. People often opt for the shortest path between two points. The reason steam works is because you register a CC once, and then any time you want a new product it's just three clicks away.

        People are lazy. I honestly think this is an aspect of the pirate mentality (if you will) that is extremely underappreciated.

        You act like that kid who was definitely not me didn't save up all his money to buy games regardless, and didn't pick up a paper route that paid about $3.50 an hour to also help pay for things.
        It's just that only being able to afford one game every few months was rather boring.

    This is the type of garbage pirates argue to try and justify them stealing something they should have paid for. Clearly this "game designer" hasn't paid for a game in decades.

    Yes its true that many of the pirates had no chance of buying the game anyway and yes its true that it can encourage the pirate to buy the sequel but do you know what's better for the industry then a pirate illegally downloading Part 1 and buying Part 2?

    Buying both parts.

      Sure would be better. Pity that at the moment, all that's happening is Part 1 is pirated, and nothing ever happens with a Part 2.

      Publishers and Developers should be aiming to maximise uptake, not minimise piracy. Those are, in this case, significantly different.

      Of course, anyone who disagree's with what you believe is the norm is the enemy. And while we're at it, why not say that everyone who opposes the internet filter is a pedophile? Get a fucking clue.

    Piracy gets more fans for deserving titles. More fans = More word spread about the title = More legitimate purchases.
    I'm not saying piracy is good, just that sometimes free copies of games can earn you more than a little hermit game who only comes out to play if he can call his company first.

    Pirates are fans...but there still not the fan you'd sign an autograph for.

    I think most people just buy games these days...it's not as bad as it used to be, at least on the consoles. Then again that could be because of the lack to get a hacked console as easily.

    Steam does a good job, cheap games good games, and soon multi-platform games you only need to buy once (portal 2).

    There's just some games out their (ESPECIALLY SEQUELS) which are too overpriced all things considered. CoD for example, it's the same engine, same basic game with nothing really new added. Same with games like Halo: odst, fallout new vegas and so on. If the game doesn't fundamentally change the cost of the game is cheaper to make and hence should be cheaper to buy (I'm making a assumption here, correct me if I'm wrong please).

    A friend of mine had the game on preorder and had intended to buy the game no matter what. He downloaded the leaked version because he wanted to try it out. He'd already paid for it, but wouldn't have cancelled the preorder even if he hadn't.

    Stealing is stealing, no matter what medium the thief uses to steal. Let's all go give hugs to the drug dealers while we're at it.

    Regardless of all the "waah, I can't afford it" and "oh but I wouldn't have bought the game anyway" arguments, there's no denying that MOST pirates have the money and always had the intention of playing, and that a LOT of money is lost because of pirates.

    And besides - how is "I wouldn't have bought the game anyway" a legimate argument? If a game doesn't appeal to you, then why are you bothering to pirate it? "Because I wanted to see what it's like"? Rent it or watch some videos on youtube. I think it's safe to say that anyone who can afford an internet connection and a computer capable of running games can afford to rent a game for a couple of days.

      Also - what the hell? Is this article promoting piracy?

      Imagine if nobody paid for their games. There'd be no games industry at all. Pirates contribute ZERO to the industry - somebody has to pay, and pirates choose not to because they're cheap.

      Terrible, terrible article.

      There are plenty of things that don't fit within my budget, and $110 new release games are one of them. I don't have that money, and I never would have bought the game. I'm sure plenty of other people are in the same boat.

      Sure, I could just miss out on playing the game. But I can download it for free, and it doesn't hurt anyone. So... why not?

        That is not to say I never buy games. I just can't buy all the games I play. I tend to save up and buy the titles that I play the most.

      There was an iphone app (I forget which one, someone will know it) which was quite popular and the developers did something clever. There were leaderboards which tracked not only high scores, but who had actually paid for it so some were highlighted in blue and others in red. If someone did pirate it and then buy it, it would let the developers know and change their score colour accordingly.

      Wanna know how many people pirated it and then bought when they liked it? If you guessed zip, sod all, nada, nothing, you'd be right. It's a crock of an excuse.

      1. Unemployed (looking for work)
      2. Student
      3. Had to trade like 9 games to get a new game
      4. Have no money

      Games that have lasting value with me I tend to buy after I've tried them out, or when I can, its not about people being cheap its about QUALITYvsMONEY, I've downloaded so many mp3s over the past couple of years, yet now I own at least half of the CD's because I believe in supporting things I enjoy, but if you think I'll go out and spend 120$ I don't have on a game that turns out to be terrible, your sadly mistaken (also usually rent video games if I think that the game isn't that great but its worth playing through).

    Piracy is inherently a parasitic behavior. Pirates can do what they do because other schmucks are willing to pay game makers.

    Except piracy apologists have provided a neat philosophical excuses for their actions. Articles like this that argue "piracy doesn't hurt anyone".

    The schmucks, of course, see this and think "well I don't want to be a schmuck anymore, I'll be a pirate because there is nothing inherently wrong about not paying because "piracy doesn't hurt anyone"

    The question is - as piracy becomes easier, how will pirates maintain a large enough supply of schmucks to keep funding the production of games that the pirates don't want to pay for? What reason is there to remain a schmuck if the pirates have argued that there is no moral obligation to compensate content producers?

    Sorry but people who pirate may be fans but they are criminals who are stealing content and depriving publishers of money they can use to a) live or b) put into other projects. If you can warp your mind with pointless retoric like 'they charge too much' then that is all well and good for you, but you are still I hindering the development of the games industry.

    I'll admit piracy isn't nearly as bad in video games as in movies, tv or music but it is still stealing.

    In conclusion, you may be a fan but you are such a great fan you are happy to hinder the very people who bought you the very thing you enjoy.

    In game ads and product placements, so long as they are implemented properly, can be the revenue for pirated games that developers are looking for.

    Sell weeks of ad space for games (obviously ones played online) in games that allow it. Eg. Sports games.

    Im not ashamed to addmit that i will download leaks ( I have downloaded the Crysis 2 leak) I will also download a game if i have already paided for it and its been released everywhere else in the world but not our region due to publishers being fuckheads. Im Im looking at you Borderlands, JC2 and New Vegas, all which were ment to be playable on the same days as the USA (within timezone limitation)but their publishers then pulled the ole switcheroo one hour or in the case of Borderlands 5mins before they went live.

    I did however pirate Stalker COP, not because i hated the devs, on the contray, i love the stalker series, but because they were smart, they choose not to release the game in novemeber for the rest of the world because they knew they would have to go up against Modernware 2 and other such titles. They released the game only in russia with only the russian language pack. Now while no developer likes to see their work pirated, the GSC english forums were ablze of westerners talking about the game and translating the text until the game was offically released in the west. The moment the game was released here, you bet your arse i went and legally brought a copy of the game. Its Still in its original caseing untouched.

    Now i mentioned that i downloaded the leaked Crysis 2 development beta, I can tell you all that before the leak i was sitting on the fence on wheather id even bother with the game. After playing a few levels of the leak, i preodered the game from the EA Store.

    The last few games I pirated were ones I was unsure I would buy, Black Ops and Test Drive 2. Played each for an hour or two and there was no way I would spend money on them. And yes I did delete them both. Though I often do pirate games I have pre ordered. They get my money either way. Doesnt help when series of games we have come to love, CoD and TDU have become PoS >.>

    But when you buy PC games, you are actually just buying the rights to use the game. That's why many retail outlets cannot trade PC games in, technically all they would have to trade in is the verification code. Where as with a console game you actually own the game, so yes downloading a game is directly stealing the game, and whatever they could make on that one copy is lost, and the retailer loses out as well.

    Leaving out the fact that a lot of PC games aren't rent-able, we're missing the CORE fact of piracy... WHY.

    For example, how many have a bad taste in their mouth because they bought a game at full retail and can't play it because it's completely shagged thanks to it's DRM (latest Splinter Cell for example) and the 'pirates' can play it and they haven't paid for it. I for one would never buy another version again, same with Assassins Creed. If the 'intuitive' anti-piracy makes it unplayable to us decent human beings that pay for our games then as much as I'd hate to say it, I'll just jack your next instalment because you pissed me off.

    Above all of this, we're missing the fundamentals of what we all think is our morale right: Buying a quality product. If game devs want top dollar for an UNFINISHED game (seriously, show me a AAA game released in the last few years that actually works as advertised from the launch date) then they surely have to expect they're going to piss a few people off.

    Now myself, I just refuse to buy the next instalment now (and spend my money on paintball gear instead) and it's to the point where my yearly budget of nearly $1400 in games goes elsewhere and I only buy the odd game I know my mates will play online with me. The sad part is, I can count off a dozen people just like me, so there's $10k plus per year no longer funding the industry and instead, being spent elsewhere.

    Needless to say, none of us are upgrading our hardware every 8-12 months to play the best frame rates etc anymore either, so the hardware market is losing out on our dollars too. So rather than play games, we're being forced to find new avenues of hobbies because we're no longer driving the market, the market is driving us away.

    Yes, piracy is bad, no you can't compare it to stealing a car for goodness sake, but although piracy is bad, and can most definitely affect the bottom line for the developer, I think we need to look into the reasons of WHY we have piracy, not how much. Let's stop bickering about who or stats or it's effect and look at the source of the problem instead.

    That is all.

      "bought a game at full retail and can’t play it because it’s completely shagged thanks to it’s DRM (latest Splinter Cell for example)"

      Settler 7 had it worse - a game that wants a few hours invested at a time needing a stable net connection? Not to mention a server hiccup overseas blocking Australians from being able to play at all for a week! (though at least you didn't directly lose progress mid-game like the original AC2 implementation)

      And the Borderlands DLC - I had to download cracked versions because the Securom-infested version I PAID FOR caused general protection faults EVERY time I attempted to access the content (and I suspect it was a known cause due to the support forum getting to 70 pages or so with no better official response than 'ensure your video drivers are up to date') - not to mention that the GOTYE required downloading 4.5gb of DLC... so where's the incentive to download from the official source when there's a good chance of it not working? (I still want to buy the Borderlands GOTYE because I like the matching box art, but having to download from illegal sources means my sale would count for naught on the official tally anyway!)

    So, basically, game companies really should THANK people for stealing their games. Pirates are practically doing a public service.

    Wow. INGSOC is alive.

    Sorry, I just had to post in this.

    Is it just me or does every article mentioning piracy always attract a HUGE number of posts?

      It's a big issue with a huge grey area. It'll never be sorted, but it's always good to talk about.

    piracy is like using the library. You get the book to enjoy and read it, experience it etc, but it cost you nothing and no money is paid to the publishers or authors no matter how many people borrow it.

      Except libraries pay for the books on your behalf, with your taxes. Piracy is more like taking someone's ruler off their desk in school. You only mean to borrow it, but wind up keeping it by accident.

        That's not right either, because most schoolkids aren't depending on that ruler to earn their living.

          No but they rely on it to draw straight lines. It may not be the same as income but it is something they rely on to complete a task. If a developer relies on money to complete life's tasks then...

    There will always, always be people who pirate games because they are simply cheap. They have no excuse, they don't offer an argument, they don't care. They see games as simply not worth their money and do not wish to pay for them. They may remain silent and let the others do the rationalising for them, but they really don't care either way.

    My view is that if the publishers made a product that was quality it would sell. I mean, have good content, good packaging, good support, good prices, good incentives, good community and god experience. At the moment let's look at the PC scene.

    You get a dvd case, not a box.
    You get a quick start guide, not a manual (I remember when manuals had stories, were themed and interesting and you could read them on the toilet).
    You get a game on the disc with usually some form of DRM which is up to you to deal with.
    If something goes wrong you trawl through forums for an answer.
    If the game is short (and they are getting quite short) you have to pay more money for an hour or two more.
    If you enjoy it enough to become a fan, there are no tools to make mods or extra maps.
    You fork over about double what people pay in the US for the same product regardless of exchange rates.

    It's not hard to see why people are nonchalant about pirating, even if it does do nothing but hurt them in the long run.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/02/17/aussies_are_pirates/

    Il just leave this here

    Pirates - fans? In some cases, yes. In most cases, no.

    Having previously worked in GAME I had grown quite used to people asking if we traded stuff in, then pulling out a huge bag filled with copied CDs. Or the lady who tried to trade in a PlayStation - I noticed the security sticker on the bottom removed and asked her if it could play copies, to which she proudly said "yes" as if expecting more money. When I said we couldn't trade these things in all of them left very angry.

    People pirate to save money, make money and get everything for free, for the most part, and it's difficult to judge how the industry should react. Part of me wants to say "lower prices and use in-game advertising".

    Yes, it's true that pirating a game isn't the same as "stealing" since no copy of the game has gone missing. But the developers have still created something and you've gone and, I suppose the best word to use is "used", you've gone and used it against their wishes.

Join the discussion!